3 Ideas for Self-Parenting

I recently finished a book called Following Atticus: How a little dog led one man on a journey of rediscovery to the top of the world, which tells the story of how author Tom Ryan started hiking with his miniature schnauzer, Atticus, and he discovered that they both loved hiking mountains. I enjoyed reading about their adventures, but one of the things that most struck me was how Ryan trained Atticus.

Ryan didn’t officially train the dog. He simply tried to give Atticus the kind of love and attention (with appropriate boundaries) that Ryan wished he’d received as a child.

Even more interesting, Ryan also started taking better care of himself. It was as if caring for Atticus in a loving, parental way allowed Ryan to also start parenting himself the way he’d always wished.

All this got me thinking about self-parenting. We talk about this in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, and how self-parenting allows you to treat yourself with compassion and kindness. It also helps you identify and meet your true needs.

If you’re not familiar with the term, self-parenting is the idea of developing the inner voice in your mind into one that responds as a parent would, one who loves you for who you are even if you make mistakes. Too often, inner voices are critical, especially if that’s how you were raised. But if you can change that voice to one that’s gentler and more compassionate, you can move away from self-judgment and feelings of guilt and begin to meet your needs in a better way.

From a mindful eating perspective, this helps you move away from judgment about food, and you may find that you don’t turn to food as much out of boredom, stress, loneliness, etc.

With that in mind, here are three ways to get started.

Create Your Own Rules

As you may know, different types of parents have different styles of rules for their kids:

· Lenient parents have few or no rules

· Firm but loving parents have reasonable rules and boundaries

· Harsh parents have very strict rules (and punishments)

You might be used to one style based on how you were raised, or how you decided to raise your own kids, but you can also change that when parenting yourself.

For example, if you had harsh parents, you probably resented some (or most) of the rules. Or if you had lenient parents, you might have wanted some rules because, without them, it can feel like your parents didn’t care.

The middle ground is a good way to go, and when you’re self-parenting, that could mean making some rules for yourself.

I started thinking about this after listening to an episode of Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us. In Part 2 of “Ask Me Anything,” she mentioned that her household has a rule that no one is allowed to say something bad about anyone in the family – and that includes not saying anything bad about themselves.

That could be one rule you set, that you won’t say something bad about yourself. This doesn’t mean you won’t have some negative self-talk, but if you set that rule, you’re more likely to notice when it happens and you can try to catch yourself. And it’s important to remember that this isn’t about punishing yourself for breaking the rule, but rather seeing if you can reframe what you said.

For example, if you burned something while cooking and set off the smoke alarm, you might be tempted to say, “I’m such an idiot for leaving that on the stove so long.” Or something like that.

But you could reframe it by saying, “I made a mistake by leaving that on the stove so long, and mistakes happen – I’m only human. I’ll use a timer next time.”

That’s just one example. You might want to set other rules for yourself, like about getting enough sleep, or staying hydrated, or not spending time with people who make you feel bad about yourself. See what makes sense for you.

Acknowledge Your Needs

As part of setting rules, you might have already started on this next step – acknowledging your needs. But either way, this is an important thing to do.

It’s all too easy to ignore your needs, of all kinds. You might be thirsty but decide to ignore it. You might be tired but don’t go to bed. You might feel sad about something but just push it down instead of addressing it.

The problem with ignoring those needs, of course, is that they don’t go away. If anything, they get stronger. You’ll feel more thirsty, or tired, or sad, later on.

But if you think about this as if you’re parenting yourself, it might be easier to stop and acknowledge the need.



For example, if you were with a young child who said she was sad, as a loving parent you’d ask what was wrong and if there was anything you could do to help. When you’re self-parenting, you can ask yourself those same questions, with the same kindness that you’d show to a child.

You can also think about it as Tom Ryan did. How would you want someone else to respond to you in those circumstances? And then do that.

These needs might also fall into other categories, like a need to be creative, to stretch your mind, to get in more physical activity, or to find something that gives you a sense of meaning in your life. We all have our own needs, so try to discover yours.

Advocate for Yourself

Once you start noticing your needs, you’ll probably also find that you need to advocate for yourself.

This is by no means easy, especially if you’re used to staying quiet and just taking whatever comes your way. But it’s very important, and thinking of yourself as a parent – even a self-parent – can make it a little easier.

For example, if you were a parent and saw someone bullying your child, you’d probably step in.

Or if you have a hard time thinking about a child, you could think about how you’d react if someone treated your pet badly.

See if you can stand up for yourself in the same way. Try to channel those emotions that you’d feel in other circumstances.

This can come up in all kinds of ways. You might need to speak up more about your healthcare and how your doctor treats you. Or if a friend says something that upsets you. Or if someone asks you to do something late at night, but you know you need to get to sleep earlier than that so you can be ready for the next day.

The key is to remember not to go overboard with this and start acting like a harsh parent with someone else. Just focus on standing your ground.

Self-Parenting Offers Many Benefits

Parenting yourself might feel a little strange at first, but if you’re open to the idea, it can help in many ways.

Once you start setting some rules for yourself, recognizing your needs, and speaking up to make sure those needs are met, you’ll likely find that it’s comforting to know that you can give yourself the kind of encouragement and support you’d want from a parent. And you might be surprised at how much better and happier you feel.

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